Wastewater Woes? Turn it Into Energy like American Airlines

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As  American Airlines Wheel & Brake Center in Tulsa, OK processed more than 1 million tons of tire rubber per year, it was important for the company to find a partner capable of helping the company achieve its sustainability goals in a cost-effective manner. Jennifer Minney, a solutions sales manager at Covanta Environmental Solutions based in Little Rock, AR who has more than seven years in environmental compliance and business development, discusses the partnership between companies.

Q&A

Tell us a little bit about what Covanta Environmental Solutions does: Covanta Environmental Solutions is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Covanta that provides environmental solutions to a wide range of industries. With a nationwide network of solid and liquid material processing, recycling and energy-from-waste facilities, we help solve some of the toughest challenges faced by industries and enable customers to reach their sustainability goals.

Why does American Airlines partner with Covanta? What is the wastewater problem that Covanta is solving? Many people might not think about what happens to airplane tires when they are retired or even when they need to be cleaned. At the American Airlines Wheel & Brake Center in Tulsa, OK, over one million tons of tire rubber, or about 25,000 to 26,000 tires a year, are cleaned and put back into service. The tires are worn out by the time they arrive to the facility and covered with grease, hydraulic fluid and break dust, rendering them unusable. In order to recover the usable rubber, the tires must be cleaned by a machine similar to a carwash. Previously, American Airlines treated the wastewater to remove contaminants, stored it, then solidified and disposed of the water in the landfill. Now Covanta provides a more efficient solution that avoids landfills at our Energy-from-Waste facility in Tulsa.

What is the solution Covanta offers? How does the process work?: Once the wastewater arrives at our Energy-from-Waste facility, it is put through the Liquid Direct Injection process, pumping waste water directly into combustion chambers where water vaporizes and the contaminants are destroyed, thus avoiding landfills and eliminating potential landfill leachate impacts. Liquid waste, along with municipal solid waste and other profiled waste is combusted at approximately 2000°F to generate steam that drives a turbine generator to create electricity and is also exported for use at a neighboring refinery.

How did the partnership between Covanta and American Airlines come to be? The American Airlines Wheel & Brake Center has been working to implement environment-friendly practices, including making the entire facility zero-landfill. The facility was already recycling more than half its waste in 2014 but knew they could do more. It was important for American Airlines to find a partner capable of helping the company achieve its sustainability goals in a cost-effective manner. The fact that the Covanta Tulsa Energy-from-Waste facility is located only 10 miles from the center helped avoid the cost of shipping water long distances and across state lines. The environmental and economic benefits of this partnership made it a no-brainer for both parties. With 800 tons of wastewater per year sent to the Covanta Tulsa facility, the partnership has been a success since it began in March 2014. In 2015, American Airlines was awarded Sustainable Tulsa’s Henry Bellmon Award for “setting the standards for sustainability in Oklahoma” as a direct recognition for its zero-landfill efforts.

Are there other industries that could benefit from the Covanta Tulsa facility? Covanta works with a range of industries including pharmaceuticals, consumer products, health and beauty, food, automotive, chemicals and other industrial manufacturers. But we are not only helping customers with manufacturing waste streams. As our work with American Airlines Wheel & Brake Center has demonstrated, sustainably managing waste streams throughout the many stages of business operations can be achieved.

For more information, e-mail JMinney@covanta.com.

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